In this essay; I will discuss an ethical dilemma I faced during my vacation work experience which was connected with

professional responsibilities as a junior chemical engineer and also consider the conflict of interests. I will also justify a course of action and show how this action corresponds with my responsibilities as outlined in the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) Code of Conduct. Ethics is the science of morals in human conduct (CeBER, 2013). Engineers have a mandate to think and behave ethically at all times in order to minimise harm both to fellow workers and the environment. Freng and McCarthy’s (2009) point out, an ethical engineer is required to think through moral dilemmas and arrive at practical and reasonable decisions. However, a critical issue for bosses and society when confronted with an ethical dilemma is to figure out what to do. It was in the beginning of December 2012 when I commenced my vacation training in a farm-based mohair wool textile company at the Eastern Cape, producing designer knitting yarns, accessories and home textiles. I was employed as a junior engineer in the dyeing section, where my main duties involved managing the dyeing process, investigating waste management and energy savings opportunities. It was in the morning, 12 December; I had just arrived at work when I was called to the senior manager’s office. The senior manager declared that a charge of attempted murder has been laid against the company by a major client. The client had visited the company the previous day when he accidentally drank concentrated sulphuric acid. The acid caused internally severe burns and the client was rushed to the nearest hospital where he received medical care. In a statement given to the police, the client emphasised that he misunderstood the content in the bottle since it was not labelled and presumed it was pure water. I considered the act of not labelling the bottle unethical as it posed harm to people, violated the company laws and was not fair to all the parties involved. The company’s code of conduct states that “no employee should work with any acid or chemical without labelling the bottle or container.’’ Furthermore, a professional engineer has an obligation to comply with the fundamental principles of safety. Consequently, someone had to be held accountable in order to avoid the occurrence of similar incidents in the future. I was tasked accordingly to find the person responsible as the acid was primarily used in the dyeing process. This led both to personal and professional conflict of interests. On the day of the incident, I had seen one of my colleagues and best friend working with the acid without labelling the bottle. I reprimanded them and soon left for a meeting in another town without noticing whether the bottle was eventually labelled or not. The incident was reported to have occurred at 3 pm in the afternoon. It was difficult to hold him responsible as it is possible that someone else could have used the acid after him. Furthermore, I thought to myself, “If I disclose that I have seen him working with the same acid earlier without labelling the bottle that might lead to his dismissal.” I could not stop to imagine how his family would suffer as he was the only breadwinner.

The Consultative Committee of Accounting Bodies (2011) says in one of its articles that when resolving an ethical conflict, one has to consider carefully whether other parties could or should be involved in investigation and discussions and, if suitable, how those parties should be approached. Since the company did not have security cameras, I had to seek advice from a trusted colleague within the company who was on duty that day. I humbly approached my colleague who brought to my attention that only three workers had worked in the dyeing section that day. Therefore, after performing all the investigations and attaining all necessary information I needed to compile the report, I submitted my findings to the management. In the report, I mentioned the possibility of involvement of my best friend and colleague in the incident. This is according t o ECSA’s Code of Conduct for Registered Persons (Act No.46 if 2000) section 3 (3) (a) which states “Registered Persons must at all times have due regard and priority to public health, safety and interests.” Moreover, section 3 (5) (b) states “Registered Persons may not, whether practising their profession or otherwise, knowingly injure the professional reputation or business of any other Registered Person. Any organisation has a legal and moral obligation to safeguard the health and welfare of its employees and the general public (Sinnot, 2003). This situation has taught me that when working as a professional Chemical Engineer, one must always prioritise safety and eliminate the risk entirely.

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